viz. 1  _ the title

It’s probably a good idea to explain the name of this site, and why it exists in the first place.

This little word — or abbreviation, really — basically means “namely,” and it appears in a lot of formal writing. It’s in the same class of Latin abbreviations that contains “i.e.” and “etc.” and “et al.,” but it’s also a little bit different.

The Latin phrase that viz. stands for is “videre licet,” which translates literally to it is permitted to see. But actually it’s really an abbreviation of the adverb “videlicet,” which is a shortened version of that phrase (think of it like a contraction in English). But that’s not even the interesting part, because viz. is actually an even further shortening of another form, which is itself also another shortening.

The great Roman politician and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero, whose speeches push every third-year Latin student into a state of near-constant malaise, employed a slave named Tiro  as his scribe. As part of his manuscript work for Cicero, Tiro developed a system of thousands of shorthand symbols, each of which stood for some letter, combination of letters, or syllable. With these so-called “Tironian notes,” a scribe could compose new shorthand words using symbols for the first-two and last-two letters of longer actual words. This system was eventually adopted throughout the Roman Empire, and used extensively across Europe well into the medieval period.

Now back to viz. Shortening videlicet with Tironian notes — that is, the first syllable and the last — produces vi+et. And while the symbol for vi is lost, the symbol for et survived, largely because et happens to be the Latin word for “and,” an extremely common word, so its symbol, ⁊, outlasted all the other notes. In fact, the et symbol is still in relatively common use in Ireland, mostly with written Irish Gaelic (it was Irish monks, after all, who kept the classics alive during the middle ages).

But of course most modern fonts — not just digital ones, but metal ones before those — don’t contain Tironian notes. The closest a printer working with a printing press could get would be either a 7 or a z, both of which approximated the form of the ⁊. Thus what emerged was a new abbreviation that tried hard to look like vi⁊, but never quite got there: viz., a weird typographical kludge with an ancient and convoluted pedigree.

I chose to name this project viz. mostly because I like the strange history of the word. But the word is also obviously about visual things, and this project is about visual things, too. Plus the meaning of viz. in use implies that an “almost-complete list” will follow, and I like the idea of this site always being “almost-complete.”

I also like the list format. I’m a big fan of Factory Records, which made Manchester, England the place to be in the 1980s, and one of the things that Factory did was they gave everything they produced a more-or-less sequential number, regardless of what that thing was (e.g., a record, a building, a poster). Gilles Deleuze would call such a list “anisomorphic,” but I just think that it doesn’t really matter what form the things on the list take, or whether they fit together in some obvious way, because what matters is that someone decided to make a thing and put it on the list.

So that’s what viz. is. It’s a list of things that I or my collaborators do or make or find reason to talk about that in some way strikes us as an interesting bit of visual culture. I’m not sure yet what the parameters for this list will be, but I’m sure we can figure them out as we go along.